Serbia has harshly denounced the United States for “sponsoring” a Kosovo move to build its independent army, threatening the Balkan nation with military intervention after the parliament overwhelmingly passed the law.
President Aleksandar Vucic, who visited Serbian troops near the border with Kosovo, said on Friday that the decision has brought Belgrade “to the edge” and has left no choice for Serbia but to “defend” itself.
Kosovo’s parliament on Friday passed three draft laws to expand an existing 4,000 Kosovo Security Force and turn it into a regular, lightly armed army. Ethnic Serb lawmakers, however, boycotted the vote.
“This vote today begins a new era for our country,” said parliamentary speaker Kadri Veseli.
Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci also hailed the vote, saying it was “the best gift for the end of the year season.”
The United States also praised the vote and promised to support “the gradual transition … to a force with a territorial defense mandate, as is Kosovo’s sovereign right,” said a US embassy statement in Pristina.
It also urged Kosovo to continue “close coordination with NATO allies and partners and to engage in outreach to minority communities.”
Though it will take years for the small Balkan country to build its own army, the move which is supported by the West, specially the United States and the United Kingdom, has infuriated Serbian president Vucic.
He called Washington as a “sponsor” for the Kosovo move, saying that the US administration aims to “quash” the Serbs, but that he won’t allow it.
An advisor to the president, Nikola Selakovic, threatened on Friday that Belgrade could send in armed forces or declare Kosovo an occupied territory.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic also said his country will seek an urgent session of the United Nations Security Council over the move.
Late Friday, the Security Council held closed consultations on the format of a meeting, possibly on Monday or Tuesday.
According to council diplomats, Russia — a close ally of Serbia —wants an open meeting to be addressed by Serbia’s president, but European counties demanded a closed session.
The decision, however, will be made by Ivory Coast’s UN ambassador, the current council president, according to the diplomats who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavro immediately reacted to the decision, calling on US-lead NATO alliance to “take urgent and exhaustive measures to demilitarize and disband any armed Kosovar-Albanian formations.”
The foreign ministry also denounced some Western officials who say that the new Kosovo army would be no different from the existing Kosovo Security Force.
It further explained that “in reality, it doubles its numbers and creates reserves and most importantly substitutes the essence of the forces whose role until recently was that of civil defense.”
Muslim-majority Kosovo, which gained independence back in 2008, was a former Serbian province.
It is currently recognized by 117 countries as an independent state, including the United States and most members of the European Union. Five EU members, Serbia and Russia, however, refuse to recognize it as a sovereign nation.
The decision to create an impendent army has even prompted reaction from NATO, which has already 4,000 troops, known as Kfor, in the country.
The Western alliance’s chief, Jens Stoltenberg called the move as “ill-timed” saying; it “goes against the advice of many NATO allies and may have serious repercussions for Kosovo’s future Euro-Atlantic integration.”
“I reiterate my call on both Pristina and Belgrade to remain calm and refrain from any statements or actions which may lead to escalation,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief said that the alliance remains committed “to a safe and secure environment in Kosovo and to stability in the wider Western Balkans” and that they will “re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force.”
Kosovo’s authorities, however, have promised that the army would not threaten peace in the region.
“Kosovo’s army will never be used against them (Serbs),” said Prime Minister Ramus Haradinaj.
Any armed intervention by Serbia would cause a direct confrontation with thousands of NATO troops, including US soldiers, in Kosovo.